Category Archives: 10 Masquerades

Exercise: Recreate a Childhood Memory

The brief:

Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. Think carefully about the memory you choose and how you’ll recreate it. You’re free to approach this task in any way you wish.

  • Does the memory involve you directly or is it something yo witnessed?
  • Will you include your adult self in the image (for example, to ‘stand in’ for your childhood self) or will you ask a model to represent you? Or will you be absent from the image altogether?
  • Will you try and recreate the memory literally or will you represent it in a more metaphorical way, as you did in Part Two?
  • Will you accompany your image with some text?
  • In your learning log, reflect on the final outcome. How does the photograph resemble your memory? Is it different from what you expected? What does it communicate to the viewer? How?

When I read this exercise I immediately thought of a photograph that is rather poignant for me, although it is not a childhood memory of mine, but rather that of my children which my husband and I share. We were on holiday at St Lucia in South Africa, I think the year was 1990 and we decided to have a barbecue on the beach one evening. The beach was entirely deserted and my husband made a fire between some logs. It was winter, but winter in that climate zone in South Africa is very warm (rather like summer temperatures in the Northern hemisphere, except for the evenings. The boys were feeling rather chilly so they both climbed into one sleeping bag and settled against one of the logs and enjoyed the adventure.

Night barbecue on St Lucia beach circa 1990
Night barbecue on St Lucia beach circa 1990

I want to create the image in a literal way, basically the same, just twenty two years later. I very much doubt that my two strapping lads would fit into one sleeping bag now, so I will have to improvise on that. The lighting in the photo above was mainly from the fire, but we are not allowed to make fire on the beaches here in Canada, which is where I live now, so I will have to rely on using flash with a warm gel to recreate the light. I will also have to substitute the bag of charcoal with something else, but there is no shortage of driftwood on our local beach so the rest should be easy to set up. I will just have to wait for an evening where it isn’t raining. Obviously, as I was the one who took the original photo, I will not feature in the recreation.

Update:

At last a good weather day and a clear spot in my sons’ busy social diaries allowed me to finish this exercise. We headed down to Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, just in time to catch a beautiful sunset. With the first winter snowfall fresh on the local mountains, the night was very chilly. As originally thought I did use my flash with an orange gel to recreate the golden light from the fire. Both my sons were a little awkward at first, expressing the hope that there was no-one that they knew walking the seawall! I tried to keep the same poses, but obviously the two lads were not going to get into the same sleeping bag so the composition is not as tight as in the original photo. Here are two photos that I took this evening, one with a similar composition and the other changed to include the stunning sunset in the background. I think I prefer the second photo as by this time everyone had relaxed a bit and were fooling around and making wise cracks.

Fig 1 - Beach photo shoot recreation #1
Fig 1 – Beach photo shoot recreation #1
Fig 2 - Beach photo shoot recreation #2
Fig 2 – Beach photo shoot recreation #2
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Tracey Moffat

Tracey Moffat was born in Brisbane, Australia. She obtained her BA in Visual Communications from the Queensland College of Art in 1982, after which she moved to Sydney. Much of her work focuses around issues of race, childhood trauma, and the media.

Our course materials directs us to look at Moffat’s Being – Under the Sign of Scorpio (2005) series.  In this series she disguises herself as forty famous women (Marie Curie, Vivien Leigh, Catherine Deneuve, Georgia O’Keefe, Bjork, etc.), who were all born under the sign of Scorpio. She poses in front of a bedsheet in her bathroom, taking on the guise of each woman. She later added backgrounds using Photoshop.

Since I was born on November 12th and am also a Scorpio, I have been intrigued about what makes the Scorpio tick. It is such a powerful and intense sign: Scorpios can ‘cross over’ into dark worlds and come back unscathed. They are fearless and listen to no-one.

Tracey Moffat (Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery)

The research and planning of each woman took a few weeks, but the actual shooting only lasted about two minutes according to Moffat. Her final images can be seen on the Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery site and I do have to say that I prefer the versions sans the Photoshop backgrounds. To me they look too gaudy, artificial and contrived and take away the attention from the person Moffat is trying to be.

In this series Moffat does not reveal anything of herself to the viewer. The series is pure performance based art, rather like karoake, as her acting is not very good. However, it is a very ambitious task to photograph the diversity of these forty women that she chose. I particularly like the contact sheet presentations where the viewer is able to see the progression of the performance in the attempt to become the particular woman.

In my portraits I have tried to capture their spirit and likeness, but only “at a moment’s glance”. It is almost like the moment when you see a famous person in a restaurant. Everyone is craning their necks to get a glimpse, only to end up with a fleeting view of the back of the celebrity as they exit into the VIP room.

Tracey Moffat (Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery)

Reference List

Tracey Moffatt (2005).  Under the Sign of Scorpio [online] Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery. Available from: http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/news/releases/2005/07/10/94/ [Accessed 30 October, 2015]

Tracey Moffatt (2005).  Under the Sign of Scorpio [online] Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery. Available from: http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/artists/26/Tracey_Moffatt/380/ [Accessed 30 October, 2015]

Bibliography

Bright, S. (2010). Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson

Tracey Moffat [online]. Guggenheim. Available from: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artists/bios/5094/Tracey%20Moffatt [Accessed 30 October, 2015]

Exercise: Masquerades – Lee and Morrissey

  • Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs or both?

I would definitely state that Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic, but because she approached her subculture groups and got permission to be with them for a three month period I would not classify her work as exploitative. Voyeuristic most certainly as she is providing insights into subcultures that viewers might not normally see. She is on the inside, looking in. I believe she is commenting on both her own identity and the group’s identity. By immersing herself into a subculture for a long period she cannot exclude comments on their identities.

  • Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?

I probably would agree to her request if I was on the beach with my family. I would regard it as a bit of fun.

  • Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

Morrissey’s The Failed Realist series is a set of images in which her daughter painted her face. Face painting is an activity that her daughter thoroughly enjoyed but in these instances it is the daughter that is doing the painting and depicting fairy tale characters, a movie that she had watched or some dream. In these images, Morrissey has assumed a deadpan expression, becoming the canvas for her daughter’s artwork.

 In her Seven Years series, Morrissey and her sister (there is a seven year age gap, hence the name of the series) re-enact scenes from old family photographs. They use period clothing from the 1970’s and assume the identity of other siblings and their parents, using her parents’ house for the settings. It is interesting to see the expressions and awkwardness of the poses that must have existed originally. There are not many smiles in the set of images and there is a sense of teen self-consciousness that runs through the set.

Bibliography

Trish Morrissey. The Failed Realist [online] Available from: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/workpg-01.html [Accessed 29 October, 2015]

Trish Morrissey. Seven Years [online] Available from: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/workpg-01.html [Accessed 29 October, 2015]

Trish Morrissey

Trish Morrissey’s project Front is an exploration into culture and boundaries. For this project she approached various groupings of people on beaches in Australia and the UK and asked if she could become part of their family or group temporarily for the purpose of making the photograph. People tend to act differently on beaches; they tolerate less personal space and behave in ways they normally would not. For instance some women are quite conscious about dressing age appropriately for the majority of the year, but come summer holiday at the beach they rush to don their little bikinis when really that is the last item of clothing they should be considering for their age or figures.

Morrissey set up her camera and then had the mother or a woman in the group take the actual photograph, while she borrowed an item of clothing from her to wear and took her place among the family members for the photograph, masquerading as the missing woman. Each photograph bears the caption of the name of the woman Morrissey replaced.

Morrissey states in an interview with the Guardian that “it takes a lot of bottle to ask strangers to do something like this.” However, because the person pressing the shutter button was familiar to the group, the photographs look natural, some even finding the performance quite amusing.

As with Nikki S. Lee’s work, it is only when one views the photographs as a series that one begins to find the similarities and then begin to question the identity of the person and the boundaries that have been crossed. As Morrissey states (Bright 2010, p 209) ‘ideas around the mythological creature the “shape shifter” and the cuckoo are evoked.’

Her image Hayley Coles, June 17th, 2006 is the most successful of the Front series. In this image Morrissey sits on a fold up chair holding a newspaper facing the camera, flanked by her African ‘husband’ and ‘son’. The man is sitting on a large rug with an African print with his legs drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped comfortably around them. The little boy is standing on the sand with a long towel wrapped around his waist. In the background are beautiful white cliffs and waves breaking on the beach. The family’s poses in this photograph are different than the rest of the set where family and friends merely echo each other’s pose in a typical snapshot fashion.

Reference List

Bright, S. (2010). Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson

Phillips, Sarah (2013). Trish Morrissey’s Best Photograph: Infiltrating a Family on Kent Beach [online]. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/23/trish-morrissey-best-shot [Accessed on 29 October, 2015]

Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee is a Korean born photographer who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography in Korea. She then moved to the United States, completed an undergraduate degree in commercial photography and went on to obtain her Master of Arts in photography at the New York University.

Masquerade photography is all about putting on a disguise or adopting a role in order to say something about the world, be it political, fantasy or personal. Masquerade allows for role play and it is often easier to say something controversial when in disguise. Lee is well-known for pushing the boundaries of identity and culture in her self-portraits. In her Projects series she identifies a subculture, researches the group and integrates with that group for a period of about three months, adopting their dress and mannerisms and customs. Once she feels that she has assimilated into the group successfully she asks a random stranger passing by or a friend to take a photograph of her with her new “friends”. Her camera of choice for this series was a simple point and shoot camera as she wanted the photographs to look like snapshots.

She performs identity – reinventing herself with the stereotypes, media hype, codes, and clues that look into and out from a given community, infiltrates that community, and presents us with a new version of herself.

Dayna McLeod

Lee evaluates her work on two criteria, namely how successfully she has managed to integrate herself into the subculture group she has chosen and the believability of the taken photograph. It is often said that to form a new habit takes twenty one days, so the mere act of living within a specific subculture for three months would make Lee’s performance of the ‘new’ identity quite authentic. I do have to wonder, as an aside though, if she felt comfortable in all those subcultures. I believe that the very act of handing the camera over to a someone else to take the photograph is probably sufficient proof of her comfort in her new identity.

Looking at individual photos of Lee’s Projects series we are not really aware of the subtle anomaly present i.e. Lee herself. But once we put the images together and look at them as a whole we become aware of Lee and start to look for her in her new, changing identity. We begin to see that identify is fluid, ever changing. It is through her relationships with her friends that she comes to terms with her own identity.

Reference List

McLeod, Dayna. Stretching Identity to Fit: The Many Faces of Nikki S. Lee [online] Ciel Variable Archives. Available from: http://cielvariablearchives.org/en/component/content/article/393-stretching-identity-to-fit-the-many-faces-of-nikki-s-lee.html [Accessed 15 October, 2015]

Photographer Nikki S. Lee Can Turn into Anyone [vidcast, online] The Creators Project 21/07/2010. 6 mins 47secs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI8xpJItPVI (accessed 29/10/2015)

Bibliography

Allison, Amanda (2009). ‘Identity in Flux: Exploring the Work of Nikki S. Lee’ In: Art Education, Vol. 62, (No 1) pp. 25 – 31.

Bright, S. (2010). Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson

Lee, Nikki S [online]. National Museum of Women in the Arts. Available from: http://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/nikki-s-lee [Accessed 15 October, 2015]